Tag Archives: Air Traffic Control

Ryanair denies claims that two Israeli F-16s almost collided with one of its Boeing 737s

Ryanair denies any near miss between one of its Boeing 737 passenger airplanes and two Israeli Air Force F-16 fighter jets.

On Mar. 1, 2016 two Israeli Air Force (IAF) F-16 Fighting Falcons involved in a training exercise over the Negev desert converged on the flight path of a Ryanair Boeing 737 on landing approach at Ovda airport in Israel.

Several media outlets claimed that the two IAF fighter jets came “dangerously close” to the Ryanair aircraft, which had 162 passengers on board, and that a mid-air collision was prevented only thanks to the airliner pilot who changed the course of his aircraft at the very last moment.

But as reported by TimesofIsrael.com, Ryanair denied any claim of a near-miss.

According to the airline, the flight from Krakow to Ovda was cruising at 27,000 ft in Israeli airspace when the aircrew noticed two IAF F-16s climbing towards their flight path.  As pointed out by a Ryanair statement, the two fighters remained at “3 miles away from the aircraft, so the reports of a ‘nearly crash’ or ‘evasive manoeuvres’ are all false and invented.”

The airline also added that the Ryanair aircrew alerted the Air Traffic Control which vectored the F-16s away from their Boeing 737.

“All passengers on board the Ryanair aircraft noticed nothing, since our aircraft never diverted from its cleared flight path to Ovda.”

Although no injures or damages were reported, Israel’s Transportation Ministry and the Israeli Air Force will investigate the matter.

Image credit: Israeli Air Force

 

F-16, F-15 jets and KC-135 tanker aircraft took part in escort mission of unresponsive plane crashed off Jamaica

A Socata TBM-700 flown by a non-responsibe pilot crashed 14 miles off Jamaica, while enroute to Naples, Florida. Several U.S. Air Force plane took part in the escort mission.

On Sept. 5, a Socata TBM-700, N900KN, departed at 08.26LT from Rochester, New York, end en route to Naples, Florida, whose pilot had become unresponsive, crashed 14 miles off the coast of Jamaica, after running out of fuel.

The pilot had requested the Air Traffic Control to descend to a lower altitude because of a problem but became unresponsive as the TBM-700 was flying at FL250.

Military Radio Comms Expert Allan Stern monitored most of the flights involved in the escort of the unresponsive private plane and his logs helped us to draw a more detailed picture of the U.S. Air Force’s response to the emergency.

reheat

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

At 10.00 NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) scrambled two F-16s out of McEntire ANGB, South Carolina, callsign “Stalk 52”. The two “Vipers” escorted the TBM-700 until they were reached by a flight of two F-15s, belonging to the Florida Air National Guard, out of Jacksonville, Florida, radio callsign “Lucky 01”.

The fighter planes were heard on frequency 141.625 talking one another about the TBM plane flown by a non-responsive pilot who was slumped forward.

Both tried to contact the pilot on VHF Emergency “Guard” frequency 121.5 MHz.

The interceptors were supported by “Gasman 02”, an Alabama ANG KC-135R, 58-0106, out of Birmingham AL, under control of NORAD’s Huntress on UHF frequency 260.9.

As the TBM-700 continued to fly southbound, they switched to Miami Control at Palm Beach, on frequency 270.325.

Later on, Stern heard “Stalk 52” as it was RTB (returning to base) to McEntire, telling NORAD’s Huntress on 228.9, that he was able to see the pilot slumped over, but that the pilot began to breath when the plane descended to lower altitude, indicating that he had been oxygen starved.

The two F-15s shadowed the unresponsive plane until it entered the Cuban airspace. The TBM-700, overflew Cuba and started to lose altitude approaching Jamaica. It crashed about 14 miles off the coast of Port Antonio, Jamaica at about  2:15 p.m. EDT.

Flightradar24 TBM700

Image credit: Flightradar24.com

 

Hijacked Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 shadowed other airliners to escape detection?

According to the satellite data the hijacked MH370 was last spotted flying towards Pakistan or Indian Ocean. But if it took the northwestern route there was only one way to be invisible to radars.

More than one week since the flight disappered from the sky, Malaysian authorities are now almost certain that Malaysia Airlines MH370 was hijacked: even though it’s impossible to say what happened aboard, the transponder and other communication equipment aboard the Boeing 777 9M-MRO were deliberately switched off to prevent identification by Air Traffic Control radars.

Even more interestingly, based on data coming from satellites, the aircraft could have taken two different routes: a northernwestern one, towards Pakistan/China, and a western one towards the Indian Ocean.

The northwestern route would have brought the plane somewhere along a route from the last recorded radar position west of Malaysia to a point on a great circle stretching from northern Thailand toward the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan border. In other words, MH370 might have crossed some of the most heavily guarded airspaces without being noticed.

Weird, isn’t it?

A Boeing 777 flying at 25,000 feet for seven hours crossing airways used by airplanes flying from Europe to Asia and vice versa and several airspaces surveilled by military and civilian radars, would leave a trace (and risk a mid-air or two on the way…)

The fact that it flew with a switched off transponder didn’t make it invisible: Air Traffic Control radars might have not noticed it (even if it is unlikely), but military air defense sites in most countries (Malaysia is probably not among them) do pay attention to primary returns that could be the sign of an unknown (or enemy) aircraft.

Provided the plane really went northwest, how did it pass unnoticed through the Indian or Pakistani airspace?

 

INMARSAT positions

Image credit: Office of Malaysia’s PM

 

Even though I still consider it quite unlikely, one of the possibilities is that the Boeing 777 shadowed another plane it encountered along the route.

Closing on another liner is not a common procedure, nor is it easy to perform with a large plane. But it is not completely impossible and, above all, such a daredevil maneuver worth an action movie, would have made the MH370 invisible to military radars.

Since the hijacking was very well executed and planned, 8 days after it went off radar with no idea where the plane crashed or landed, we can’t completely rule out the possibility that the operation foresaw a rendez-vous with another plane unaware of MH370, that could provide the shield to the Malaysia’s 777 hiding behind it.

Obviously, the Indian route is more likely, making research much more difficult and raising a question: why did the hijackers brought the plane westwards? Where did they plan to bring it?

As I said on Twitter earlier today, regardless of its crash or landing site the whole story will eventually highlight either impressive negligence (by air defenses of Malaysia and several other nations) or cover up attempt (for instance because the aircraft was shot down).

All the articles about MH370 can be read here (scroll down).

As a side note: the whole story reminds me of Lost drama fiction’s Oceanic 815 (incidentally, a Boeing 777) crash on an unknown island.

Image credit: Tomasz Bartkowiak, Reuters

 

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Two U.S. B-52 bombers help Cessna in Alaska in a memorable rescue mission

Few days before flying “violation” of China’s new ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone), the iconic B-52H Stratofortress bomber was involved in another memorable operation.

On Nov. 10, two B-52s, respectively launched from Minot and Barksdale AFB with radio callsign Hail 13 and Hail 14, were flying over Alaska, when they were called from Anchorage ATCC (Air Traffic Control Center), asking for their assistance: contacts with a Cessna plane had been lost after its pilot became disoriented after flying into bad weather.

The small plane was flying at such a low altitude that the ATC was unable to talk with it on the radio.

Hail 13 was about 200 miles away from the Cessna pilot’s estimated location when they got the distress call.

“The first thing we did was calculate our fuel to make sure we had enough,” said Capt. Joshua M. Middendorf, 69th BS aircraft commander of Hail 13. “We also had to ensure our wingman, Hail 14, would have enough fuel to make it back to Barksdale.”

After assessing that they had enough fuel for the new task Hail 13 headed directly west in search of the Cessna pilot.

One hundred miles into their detour, the leading B-52 was able to locate and establish a radio contact with the pilot who had dropped to low level to keep visual contact of the terrain below the clouds and was flying through a ground surrounded by mountains.

Since the B-52 was much higher it could act as a relay between the pilot and the ATC, providing the distress pilot information about the weather ahead and “directions” to reach the nearest landing field.
As the pilot approached Calhoun Memorial Airport in Tanana, Alaska, Hail 13 turned up the air field lights over a common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) to help the pilot landing safely.

“Although both crews flew hundreds of miles off course, they did not allow the detour to compromise their mission,” the Air Force official release on the episode says.

“The fuel saved by the crew of HAIL13 in the beginning stages of the mission allowed them to fly faster back to their original course, putting them back on schedule. Not only did they meet schedule, HAIL13 and their wingman were able to complete every mission checkpoint, resulting in a successful mission.”

Did you know that, among all the other roles, the B-52 could also fly SAR (Search And Rescue) support missions?

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

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The (somehow) unusual diversion of a US-bound Airbus 330 amid US Embassies threat

On Aug. 7, 2013, a Delta Airlines A.330-300, flying as DAL099 from Paris Charles De Gaulle to Detroit diverted to Amsterdam after experiencing an inflight problem.

The civil plane, N814NW had problems with flap extension/retraction so it circled over Norwich, UK, at FL250, to burn fuel and wait until Amsterdam was able to accept it for landing.

So far so good.

The aircraft eventually landed at Schipol airport and everyone safely disembarked the Airbus.

DAL99

However, something weird happened as the Airbus burned off fuel to reduce its weight over southeast England: as airband monitors and aircraft enthusiasts noticed, the emergency sparked an unusual type of reaction by the British Air Traffic Control (ATC) agencies.

Indeed, Delta 099, that was already in positive radio and radar contact with the civil ATC, not only switched to a London Military ATC control frequency, but did also squawk a London Mil transponder code: in other words, it was momentarily handed over to a military ATC agency.

Usually, flights in trouble are usually kept on the same frequencies as long as possible (that is to say that radio frequency changes are reduced to the minimum – something that applies to most serious emergencies) but in this case the Airbus 330 changed both VHF frequency and transponder code to be managed by the military radar.

That said there are several reasons why this may have happened. Among them there is the possibility that the emergency wasn’t so serious and the aircraft was directed to circle in zone where other military traffic was operating; therefore it was switched to London Mil to reduce the coordination effort required by the civilian ATC to manage a plane in proximity with operative air traffic.

In fact a French Air Force E-3 “flying radar station” was reported circling in the same area (most probably a coincidence) and the controllers decided that it was better to have both the Delta and the French AWACS on the same frequency for proper deconfliction.

However, according to some readers there are speculations according to which the Delta 099 carried a U.S. VIP being repatriated following the US Embassies terrorist threat.

We are unable to verify the thruthfulness of such rumors, still we can’t completely rule out that the presence of a U.S. diplomat aboard and/or some kind of terrorist scare influenced the way the emergency was managed.

What do you think?

Image credit: curimedia, Flightradar24.com

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